Monday, December 29, 2014

Murder in Hollywood(land)

ALL THAT GLITTERS (Jake and Laura #2)
Michael Murphy
Random House Alibi
Jan. 6, 2015

All That Glitters picks up immediately after the end of The Yankee Club. Jake Donovan, successful mystery author and former Pinkerton Agent, and long-time girlfriend, Laura Wilson, are leaving Grand Central Station for a cross-country journey to Hollywood. Laura, a successful Broadway actress, has been hired to co-star in a comedy produced by Carville Studios. Laura is hoping for a new career and Jake is hoping to close the deal on a whole new life by finally becoming engaged. They both agree that Jake should keep a low profile since they are neither engaged or married. That plan very quickly goes awry when the head of the studio's son is murdered and Jake becomes the prime suspect. Jake has to take off his author hat and use his investigative skills to prove his innocence before all their plans are ruined, perhaps forever.

I have always been fascinated by the Depression years and am particularly fond of the Hollywood screwball comedies of the era. Hollywood performed a great service during the Depression and later in WWII by diverting people from their fears and worries. All That Glitters features a cast instantly recognizable to movie fans of that era; the tough studio head, the blonde bombshell, the former child star with a floundering career, a female detective who is carrying a torch for Jake from years before and her not-too-smart partner. Real Hollywood figures also make an appearance; Jack Benny, William Powell and Louella Parsons figure prominently in the story. Jake and Laura make a great team much in the Nick and Nora Charles tradition, with less alcohol and more squabbling.

All That Glitters is a fun read throughout with great characters and a colorfully rendered atmosphere. I enjoyed The Yankee Club and thought All That Glitters was even better. I am looking forward to the next book in the series. Thanks to Random House Alibi and netgalley for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Susan Elizabeth Phillips
William Morrow
August 2014

I had never read anything by Susan Elizabeth Phillips so I can't really compare this to any of her other books. However, when I read the blurb I knew I had  to give it a try. I also have a love for all those 1960's gothic romances that I read in my teens, the ones with the cheesy covers! The setting on an isolated island off the coast of Maine made it a must read for me. Having spent many summer vacation weeks on just such an island, I wanted to see how she would present that little microcosm of the world.

When we first meet Annie she is a total wreck. Recovering from pneumonia, broke, and reeling from the death of her mother Annie has no place to go other than her mother's cottage on the island. Her mother had possession of the cottage in her divorce settlement from the owner of Harp House, the "big house" on the island. She has nothing but bad memories of the island, especially of the son of the house, Theo, who seemingly tried to kill her when they were both teenagers. It is the dead of winter and she fully expects to find Harp House unoccupied. Annie has to remain in the cottage for 60 days each year, never leaving the island in order to retain ownership. She has been eking out an existence as a failed actress, waitress and middling successful puppeteer. The cottage seems an ideal place to fulfill her commitment, lick her wounds and look for a legacy hidden in the cottage alluded to by her dying mother. Annie and her puppets head off to Maine. Imagine her horror to find Theo occupying Harp House. In the tradition of gothic romances, there are spooky doings at Harp House, someone is determined to run Annie off, Theo is surly but undeniably attractive despite their history. The legacy proves elusive as well. Also in the tradition of gothic romances everything comes full circle in the end.

Since I find puppets very creepy and off-putting I was taken aback by their prominence in Annie's life. They prove to be an important part of the story and I was able to put that aside pretty quickly. I also thought the book dragged in the middle somewhat. Annie and Theo are both remarkably stubborn people who seem determined to sabotage their own happiness. The most important attraction to me was the island setting. Susan Phillips has that spot-on, at least to my mind. The issues facing Maine islands are well told; the declining populations, the people who hang on there and the general difficulties of life. I just wonder which Maine island the novel is based upon.

Heroes are my Weakness is an enjoyable read, one that kept me guessing and turned my assumptions of the evildoer upside down on multiple fronts.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Delightful Lady Julia Grey eNovella

BONFIRE NIGHT ( Lady Julia Grey e Novella)
Deanna Raybourn
November 3, 2014

Bonfire Night was a mixture of joy and sadness for me, as it is the end of a much-loved series (at least for now). I have greatly enjoyed all of the Lady Julia and Brisbane stories from Silent in the Grave onward.

Lady Julia and Brisbane are enjoying an evening with Julia's sister, Portia, and brother, Plum. It is late when a visitor arrives, claiming to be a solicitor with an unusual bequest. Brisbane is to inherit a country house from someone who is unknown to him. The catch is that they must take possession by All Hallows Eve (only two days away) and remain in residence until Bonfire Night, or Guy Fawkes Day. Of course all the children, pets, relatives and nannies are packed up for a quick trip to the country. Curiosity alone makes the trip necessary.

What follows is a complete farce with a village complicit in demonstrating the haunted nature of the house. Everything from ghostly sobs, moans, rattling chains, and phantom carriages to a plague village makes an appearance. Behind all the clichés is a real mystery though; who made the bequest and more importantly, why?

Bonfire Night is a short but very enjoyable read. I highly recommend the entire Lady Julia Grey series.

RATING-3.5 Stars

Monday, October 20, 2014

Deadly Shenanigans at a Seaside Resort

Ashley Weaver
Minotaur Books
October 14, 2014

Amory Ames is young, beautiful and rich- and desperately unhappy. After jilting her former fiancé for marriage to the notoriously charming playboy Milo Ames, the two are miles apart both physically and emotionally most of the time. When that same fiancé, Gil Tennant, asks Amory to accompany him and his sister to the Brightwell Hotel on the seaside she accepts with alacrity. Gil hopes that she can help him in dissuading his sister from a similarly disastrous marriage to Rupert Howe, a well-known and impoverished man about town. When Rupert is murdered at the resort, Gil becomes the most likely suspect. Amory knows that this can't be true and sets out to prove it. When Milo shows up unexpectedly the two form an alliance, one fraught with distrust and emotional land mines.

Murder at The Brightwell is a very assured and evocative first novel. Set in the early 1930's among the wealthy and idle, it reminds me of some of Agatha Christie's Golden Age whodunits. The period detail is very rich and the other guests (suspects) are well drawn, as well as extremely unlikable in some cases. Milo himself is a mystery to me; hopefully in future books there will be some explanation for his bad behavior. He reminds me of a child who only remembers a toy when he fears to lose it. When the murder is solved (with a nice twist) Amory and Milo seem to be headed toward at least an attempted reconciliation. 

I don't usually have much to say about covers but kudos to Minotaur and the cover artist! The design is so eye-catching and gloriously Art Deco I don't see how anyone could pass it up on the bookstore shelf. I recommend Murder at the Brightwell for all traditional mystery fans. Thanks to Minotaur and netgalley for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Monday, October 6, 2014

Another Delight from the Potting Shed Mysteries by Marty Wingate

Marty Wingate
Random House Alibi
November 4, 2014

Following on the heels of The Garden Plot, Marty Wingate's second mystery starring Pru Parke, Texas transplant and gardener extraordinaire, is another delight. Pru has found her dream job restoring the landscape of Primrose House. The grounds were originally planned by the legendary Humphry Repton in 1806. While Pru is lucky enough to have Repton's illustrated "red book" of his original plans she is hampered by a strict schedule, limited staff and owners who are entirely too full of great ideas. Thus, she and the charming London Met Inspector, Christopher Pearse, are limited to long phone calls and flying weekend visits.

Someone seems to be trying to sabotage her work. After several incidences of vandalism one of Pru's workers is found murdered- with an ax from the equipment shed. Things are not as they seem at Primrose House and Pru needs to find out who is responsible before another death occurs and the project ruined. Along the way, Pru meets a number of eccentric and/or shady characters and discovers truths about her own family that she never suspected. With Christopher's support she manages to solve the mystery and survive the plots of a very disturbed perpetrator.

The Red Book of Primrose House is chock full of mystery, atmosphere and garden lore with a very satisfying romance. I highly recommend The Potting Shed mysteries for readers of cozy mysteries. Thanks to Alibi and for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Jo Baker, Narr. Emma Fielding
Random House Audio
October, 2013

Longbourn had been on my radar for quite awhile but I was hesitant, having been disappointed in some Austen "tributes" I read in the past. When it was given a high recommendation from a friend I decided to give it a try on audio. It started a little slowly for me as I was not all that interested in the drudgery required to maintain a household with five daughters, a limited budget and not nearly enough staff. I was soon captivated by the voice of the principal
narrative voice; Sarah, an orphaned housemaid who was brought into the Longbourn household  at the age of seven. Brought up by Mrs. Hill, the cook and housekeeper, Sarah has tremendous curiosity about the world outside Longbourn, a desire to see it and an equal desire to not be discounted.

Longbourn begins to change when James Smith is hired on as a stableboy/footman/general man of work. James is only a little older than Sarah but is obviously well traveled and somewhat mysterious. Sarah is initially distrustful of James but drawn to him. Another new element enters when the Bingleys arrive in the neighborhood, bringing with them Ptolemy Bingley, former West Indian slave and now footman. Someone so exotic could only be attractive to Sarah as well. How Sarah's conflicting hopes are resolved form the heart of the story, against the backdrop of the familiar Pride and Prejudice story, and I have to admit that I was more than a little teary at the most satisfying conclusion of Longbourn. I also had more sympathy for Mrs. Bennett and less for Mr. Bennett!

Longbourn is beautifully written, bringing to vivid life an era that has been romanticized but had all the conflicts of a class-bound society. One also forgets that this was the era of the brutal Napoleonic Wars, but Jo Baker reminds us of it in a particularly stark fashion when she reveals the mystery of James Smith. I highly recommend Longbourn to readers of historical fiction and lovers of Jane Austen. 

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Adventure and Romance in The Great Syrian Desert

Deanna Raybourn
Sept. 30, 2014

Deanna Raybourn has been one of my favorite authors since the first sentence of her first book, Silent in the Grave:" To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it must be noted, was still twitching upon the floor". I am more sorry than I can say that the Lady Julia series of Victorian era mysteries is coming to an end with a final e-novella due in November.Thankfully, I will be able to reread them as many times as I like and the Brisbanes are still being heard from in the Raybourn's three stand-alone novels set in the 1920s.

Night of a Thousand Stars follows the adventures of Poppy Hammond, who we first meet climbing out the church window in her wedding dress on the day of her wedding to a Viscount. She is interrupted mid-escape by a handsome gentleman in clerical garb, Sebastian Cantrip, who is more than willing to aid her. Poppy's parents were divorced when she was only a toddler and her father lives in Devon. Sebastian drives her down and we find that Poppy's father is none other than Eglamour "Plum" March, brother to Lady Julia. So Poppy Hammond is really Poppy March, one of the "Mad Marches". Poppy's step-father, mother, fiance and new lady's maid, Masterman are in hot pursuit and a heated confrontation results in the final breaking of the engagement. Sebastian makes his exit but Masterman insists on remaining in Poppy's employ. Masterman proves to be both mysterious and remarkably resourceful.

Poppy feels duty bound to find her rescuer and thank him for his help but finds that there is no clergyman named Sebastian Cantrip. What follows is a great adventure involving a retired colonel, his handsome valet, a sinister contessa, her creepy son, spies and a search for ancient treasure in the great Syrian Desert. Sebastian (whose real name is Fox) and Poppy team up to elude their pursuers and find the treasure, as well as what has happened to the missing members of the "Vespiary", a group of espionage agents put together by none other than the Brisbanes. Sebastian includes Poppy reluctantly but she proves up to the challenges they meet. It is very clear however that someone unknown is operating in the background and Masterman is not quite who she appears to be.

Night of a Thousand Stars is a fast-paced and most enjoyable read. The verbal sparring and undeniable attraction between Sebastian and Poppy makes for an often hilarious adventure, part screw-ball comedy, part old-fashioned adventure story. I highly recommend all of Deanna Raybourn's books for readers of historical fiction, mystery and romance.

Thanks to  and Harlequin/Mira for an advance digital copy in return for an honest review.

 Rating 4.5 stars.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

TABULA RASA (Gaius Petreius Ruso #6)
Ruth Downie, narrator Simon Vance
Bloomsbury USA, Tantor Audio
August 2014

Tabula Rasa, #6 in Ruth Downie's Gaius Petreius Ruso series set in Roman Britain is equally as enjoyable as all that have come before it. Ruso, a Medicus in the Roman Legions and his British wife, Tilla, are stationed in the borderlands building Hadrian's Wall. Tilla is plying her trade as a midwife and Ruso is wondering where his new clerk, Candidus, has disappeared to. Since Candidus is the nephew of Ruso's friend and former clerk he feels responsible for him. Meanwhile rumors are flying about a body being hidden in a newly built section of wall. When Branan, the youngest son of a local family that Tilla has formed a tentative relationship with also goes missing Ruso feels he must act. Action, as always, comes very reluctantly for Ruso. He would much rather keep his head down and do his job. There is little chance of that with Tilla around.

Downie tells her Ruso stories with a wealth of period detail and a wry humor that I really appreciate. Having visited a Roman encampment site in Northumberland in the depths of winter, I have a very good idea of how challenging the Legion life was. Tabula Rasa is packed with richly realized characters, both old and new. I am struck by how similar these characters are to us, with failings and foibles that the modern reader can recognize and relate to. Once again, Simon Vance narrates Tabula Rasa with his customary excellence. I highly recommend  the Gaius Petreis Ruso series for readers of mystery and historical fiction.

RATING-4.5 Stars

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Another Winner from the Bootlegger's Daughter

Margaret Maron
Grand Central Publishing
August 2014

As a "born and raised" North Carolinian who has lived for a long time away from my home state, the Bootlegger's Daughter series is a must read for me. As I have watched NC race itself to the bottom in terms of education, environmental issues, voter restrictions and women's rights, it is always good to be reminded of the things that still exist from my childhood. Things like family love and concern for one's neighbor. Not to mention BBQ, warm spring nights and the Southern Man's attachment to his truck and tools!

Just about all the extended Knott clan makes an appearance in Designated Daughters. Deborah's Aunt Rachel has been taken off life support, but suddenly wakes up and begins talking in a very disjointed way about things that happened years ago. Since it was never expected that she would speak again the whole family and many old friends gather at her bedside to listen. She has a lot of mysterious things to say but someone is worried enough about it to later smother her. Who would do such a thing and why? Deborah's husband Dwight is in charge of the investigation and discovers many old secrets. There is also a secondary story line about scams perpetrated on old people, something entirely too prevalent everywhere.

Designated Daughters is a treat for long-time readers, but I would never recommend it as a place to start. The series has been so well-developed over the years (this is #19) and the Knott family is huge. Please start with Bootlegger's Daughter and enjoy the rest!

RATING-4 Stars

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A Thrilling and Satisfying End to the Shadowfell Trilogy

THE CALLER (Shadowfell # 3)
Juliet Marillier
Knopf Books for Young Readers
September 9, 2014

The Caller brings to a close the Shadowfell Trilogy (Shadowfell, Raven Flight) by Juliet Marillier. The rebels of Shadowfell are nearly ready to challenge the evil King Keldec in a last ditch attempt take back the land of Alban and return to it's earlier peace and plenty. Under the rule of King Keldec both the fey beings called the "good folk" and human beings with any magical abilities have been persecuted and slain. The entire rebel plot hinges on Neryn, a young woman who is a Caller. She can summon all fey beings and enlist their aid in defeating Keldec. Neryn has spent the last few years training for the day she will challenge Keldec. The plan is thrown into disarray when the rebels learn that Keldec has at last found a Caller of his own; one he plans to use to build an unbeatable army. In order to stop him, Neryn has to infiltrate the King's stronghold. She is also afraid for the safety of her lover, Flint, who has spent years as an Enforcer for the King while spying for the Shadowfell rebels. Flint seems to be succumbing to his anguish over acts committed as a spy and Neryn is afraid he will betray himself.

The Shadowfell Trilogy is an epic coming-of-age story wrapped in the folklore and fantasy Juliet Marillier is known for. Neryn matures from a frightened and distrustful girl into a confident young woman who is equal to the task set before her and does not shrink from it's cost. The Caller is a very satisfactory ending and I would recommend it to both Young Adult and Adult readers. Thanks to and Knopf for a digital advance copy.

RATING-4 Stars

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Reckoning (John Madden #4)

THE RECKONING (John Madden #4)
Rennie Airth
Viking Penguin
August 2014

It is always a red-letter day for me when I hear of a new book in the John Madden series from Rennie Airth. They are so few and far between and I have been a fan since River of Darkness (1999). The structure of the series is very interesting as it spans the years from the early 1920's until this latest, The Reckoning, set in 1947.

The Reckoning begins with Oswald Gibson, retired bank manager, fishing at his favorite spot. The peace of the afternoon is shattered when he is approached, forced to kneel and shot execution style. Who could have wanted to kill such a inoffensive individual, and in such a way?  DI Billy Styles of Scotland Yard is called in when this killing is linked to an earlier one in Scotland; a doctor was killed in his office with the same type of distinctive bullet. When Gibson's brother finds an unfinished letter to the Yard asking about John Madden, Billy's old chief, Billy wastes no time in asking for his help. Madden left the Yard years ago when he married but Billy know he could be of great help. The killings continue but Madden and Billy are hot on the trail of a most unusual killer.

The Madden books revolve around the effects of war on Britain from WWI to WWII. The Reckoning circles back to an event in WWI that Madden was involved in and has resolutely tried to forget. As always Airth brings life in Britain in the period to vivid life. His characters are unforgettable. I especially appreciate the addition of Lily Poole, first seen in The Dead of Winter. Lily is an ambitious female Detective Constable, one of the first to navigate the treacherous waters of the male dominated Yard. The Reckoning is a great read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction and mystery. Reading the first three books is not a requirement but adds to the overall enjoyment.

I received this book as part of the First to Read Program in return for an honest review. Thanks!

RATING- 4.5 stars

Monday, August 18, 2014

Murder in Coal Country

Tawni O'Dell
Simon and Schuster/Gallery Books
August 19, 2014

Dr. Sheridan Doyle is a celebrity forensic psychologist, a TV friendly consultant for the Philadelphia District Attorney Office. He is urbane, well-heeled and extremely well dressed. Underneath he is still Danny Doyle; the same awkward and bullied boy who grew up friendless in Lost Creek, a Pennsylvania coal-country town. Danny's childhood was a horror story of abuse by his alcoholic father and the stigma of a mother who was convicted of killing Danny's infant sister. His only positive influences were his grandfather, Tommy, and a local cop , Rafe Malloy. No wonder he always wanted to get out of Lost Creek and managed to get an Ivy League education through academic and athletic scholarships. However it has been a classic case of the healer being unable to heal himself.  All his high end apparel is just armor, Superman's cape in  the form of an Armani. When he receives word that his 96 year old grandfather has been ill Danny packs up for a visit home to check on him, Danny returns with the greatest trepidation. He loves his grandfather but visits to his home town always bring on nightmares and panic attacks.

America is dotted with hundreds and maybe thousands of dead factory towns and agricultural communities. The jobs have left but the people seem to hang on. Lost Creek is in a class by itself though: the legends surrounding the Nellie O'Neils permeate the air. The O'Neils were  a group of young Irish miners executed by hanging after agitating, sometimes with violence, for better working conditions. Most of the people living in Lost Creek are direct descendants of the O'Neils, Danny included. Even the gallows are preserved by the town. The Dawes family, the mine owners directly responsible for the rigged trial that sent at least eight innocent young men of the the ten executed to their deaths still live in Lost Creek. The Dawes are obscenely rich but the out- of- work miners are, if possible, worse off than ever before. On his first morning home Danny goes out for a run and discovers a dead body at the foot of the gallows; one with connections to the Dawes family. Danny and Rafe team up to find the killer, a long-absent Dawes family returns to Lost Creek and more murders occur.

I have always been a fan of novels that explore the ways that past evils can trickle down to affect the present. One of Us is an extraordinarily atmospheric and well written novel. One can almost see the dreariness of winter in Western Pennsylvania and the decay so evident in Lost Creek. Told in two voices, that of Danny and the killer, One of Us is mesmerizing and thought provoking with an underlying mystery that is well constructed. I can't say enough about the characterization though. Danny, Rafe and especially Tommy are entirely believable; all flawed men trying to get though life as best they can. The killer is also chillingly believable.

I highly recommend  One of Us for readers of mystery, literary fiction and psychological thrillers. Thanks to and Simon and Schuster for an advance digital reading copy.

RATING- 5 stars

Friday, August 15, 2014

Fool's Assassin- I have really missed you, Fitz!

FOOL'S ASSASSIN (Fitz and The Fool Trilogy #1)
Robin Hobb
Del Rey Books
August 12, 2014

I am so happy that Robin Robb has returned to the world of the Six Duchies and to Fitz and the Fool for another trilogy I can barely contain myself. After my less than pleased (Ok, I hated it) reaction to the Soldier Son Trilogy, I had pretty much given up. But when I saw the galley on I requested it right away. Thanks, netgalley and Del Rey!

After an absence of about 10 years, the details of the Farseer and Tawny Man were pretty hazy. But Fool's Assassin was so easy to get into that I remembered much more than I had thought I would. Fitz has been settled, as Tom Badgerlock, at Withywoods with his beloved Molly. The Fool has completely disappeared from his life, a fact that pains Fitz, but life in general is peaceful and pleasant. It is sad that Molly is aging and Fitz is not as a result of a Skill-Healing, and that they have not had a child of their own in their middle years. The roiling politics of Buckkeep Castle have intruded only minimally because Fritz won't be sucked in. Anyone who knows Fitz also knows that the peaceful life can't last forever. It is extremely difficult to write a review of  Fool's Assassin without spoilers so that is all I have to say about the plot.

Robin Hobb is unsurpassed in her characterization and world-building. Many of the well-known characters appear in Fool's  Assassin and we are introduced to several new ones. There is a second narrator, besides Fitz; one whose voice is arresting as his. I loved the details of life at Withywoods with a minor caveat: all those details tended to drag down the narrative pace in places. That is my only complaint however as I thoroughly enjoyed the book, even the cliff-hanging end. I highly recommend Fool's Assassin.

RATING 4.5 stars

THE YANKEE CLUB (Jake and Laura # 1)
Michael Murphy
August 12, 2014

The Yankee Club is a very promising beginning to a noir mystery series with echoes of The Thin Man. Mystery author Jake Donovan is returning to 1933 NYC after a two year absence spent in Florida. He has been concentrating on his writing but the main reason he left NY is that his long-time love, Broadway actress Laura Wilson, refused his marriage proposal one time too many. His reason for the visit is a meeting with his editor who doesn't like the ending of his newest book. In the first few hours after his return he gets shot, a close friend is killed in the same attack and Jake finds out that Laura is engaged to a rich banker. Jake sets out to find out who killed his friend, with Laura's help. In the process the two get tangled up with fascists, a visiting Nazi official and nefarious plots against President Roosevelt.

The central mystery of The Yankee Club was very well done indeed and reflected the unsettled times. The Great Depression made the US a very unsafe place, a breeding ground for crime and desperation. The atmosphere as well was very evocative of the times and I particularly enjoyed the inclusion of real characters like Cole Porter, Dashiell Hammet, Lillian Hellman and Joseph Kennedy, Sr. Jake and Laura also have supporting helpers as colorful as any Damon Runyon might have created. However, I was not as taken with Jake and Laura as I had hoped. They both seemed a little thin and I was not particularly engaged by them but the book was a fast and enjoyable read. I have hopes for the next book, which is coming in early 2015. Recommended for fans of historical mystery and noir.

Thanks to and Alibi for an advance reading copy.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

A decidedly dark turn for the Dylan Scott series

DEAD END (Dylan Scott #7)
Shirley Wells
Carina Press
July 7, 2014

Things are not going well for the Scott family even though the PI business is finally off the ground and paying the bills (mostly). Dylan's wife, Bev, is undergoing treatment for cancer and Dylan has been receiving threatening phone calls. Dylan is very worried, as he has made plenty of enemies both from his days on the force and as a PI. Dylan's old colleague "Pikey" is less concerned because everyone knows that people who really want to kill you just do it; not make threats. Retired Inspector Frank Willoughby is of a different opinion however. He is concerned enough to offer to come down from the North and watch over Bev, the kids and Dylan's aging hippie mother under the cover of a visit.

Dylan narrows the suspects down to a group that he and "Pikey" sent away on a huge drug bust. Rumor has it that the bust was a set-up and the group is out for revenge. Meanwhile, a series of kidnappings and wholesale slaughter of families is happening in London. We get a chilling glimpse into the mind of the very sick individual responsible. Can this be connected? Dylan is running hard to find out who is threatening his family; without letting Bev know what is going on.

Dead End is high action and convoluted, taking a much darker tone than earlier books in the series. Shirley Wells paints such an accomplished portrait of the Scott family that it is impossible not to be emotionally invested. Bev's worries and concerns about her future and Dylan's fear for his family makes a very stressful combination. It all comes to an explosive conclusion that I really did not see coming and changes everything for Dylan. I am looking forward as always to the next book in the series. I highly recommend the series, as well as her earlier "Jill and Max" series to lovers of very British mysteries.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A GRAVE MATTER (A Lady Darby Mystery #3)
Anna Lee Huber
Berkeley Trade
July 2014

After  the death of an old friend with a tragic history of his own, Kiera, Lady Darby, retreats to her family home on the Scottish Borders. She is restless and depressed, not even finding consolation in her art, and her relationship with Sebastian Gage is still unresolved. Even though she and Gage have cooperated in two successful investigations, she finds Gage's secretiveness troubling and her own feelings confusing. She hopes that the annual festive Hogmanay Ball will lift her spirits. The ball however is interrupted by a visitor from a neighboring estate. There has been a grave robbing and the murder of an elderly caretaker; unlike most such events, the grave contains only the bones, not a fresh corpse. She contacts Gage and the two discover several other similar incidents in which a ransom has been demanded for the return of the bones. The investigation leads the two on a complicated path fraught with many suspects and motives, leading them into considerable danger.

I had very mixed feelings about the first book in the series, The Anatomist's Wife, but the second, Mortal Arts, gave me a little more understanding of both Kiera and Gage. Both the investigation and the relationship issues come to to very satisfactory conclusion in A Grave Matter. I doubt that all will be "happy ever after" for the two though! Both have had traumatic pasts that don't just resolve easily and both of them have a long way to go. The Lady Darby series is well-written and plotted, making for a very enjoyable read. 

I received an Advanced Readers Copy of A Grave Matter through a giveaway in return for an honest review.

RATING- 3.5 Stars

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Promising New Forensic Duo in Historical Mystery

Imogen Robertson
Tantor Media
March 2011

Set primarily in London and Sussex in 1780, Instruments of Darkness is the debut novel of the Crowther and Westerman series. Mrs. Harriet Westerman is raising her children and running her estate in the absence of her sea captain husband, James. When she finds a murdered man on her land during a morning walk she enlists the aid of her reclusive neighbor, the famous anatomist Gabriel Crowther. Harriet is no squeamish miss, having been to sea with her husband and seen what violent death looks like. A ring is found on the dead man that links him to the seat of the nearby Earl of Sussex, Thornleigh Hall. On the same day, Alexander Adams, proprietor of a London music shop is murdered in front of his young children, Susan and Jonathan.

There are a myriad of plot lines in Instruments of Darkness; an invalid earl with a sinister reputation, his missing heir, his second son who came home scarred and changed by his service in the Royal Army in the American Revolution, the Earl's beautiful and much younger wife and a very dodgy steward. How all these characters (along with many others) and plots connect to resolve the mystery make for an engrossing read. Ms. Robertson writes more well-rounded characters than I have read in quite a while; somehow she manages to keep them distinct. I was charmed in particular by the sweetness and strength of nine-year old Susan.

My only quibble was the constant jumping from place to place in order to juggle what the London and Sussex characters were doing at any time. It may be that I would not have felt this to be a drawback had I read the book rather than listened to the audio book. The narrator was excellent but I found myself confused at times. Despite that, I really enjoyed Instruments of Darkness and plan to read the others in the series very soon.

RATING- 4 Stars

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Wowed Again by Cormoran Strike and JK Rowling

Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Narrated by Robert Glenister
Little Brown
June 19, 2014

When we first met Cormoran Strike in The Cuckoos's Calling he was down on his luck, having lost the lower part of his leg in Afghanistan and his career as an investigator with the British Army. He is having little success and has been reduced to sleeping in his office. A very big case comes his way though, that of the supposed suicide of a supermodel. When Cormoran proves that the death was a murder and one-ups the Metropolitan Police, he finds himself with more business than he can handle and is working every minute of the day and night. Thankfully he has his stalwart assistant/apprentice, Robin Ellacott, to keep the business on an even keel.

While Cormorant is glad to be working and digging himself out of a financial mess, he is really tired of dealing with the parade of rich, vengeful wives and entitled "City" types coming through his office. When the dowdy wife of missing novelist, Owen Quine, asks him to find her husband he takes on the case, even though he doubts he will ever be paid. Quine began as somewhat of a literary enfant terrible with his first novel but has written a series of scurrilous and distasteful books since. At this point in his career he is a parody of the "literary author" stereotype and barely surviving on his book sales. When Quine disappears and parts of the manuscript of his newest work are "leaked" people sit up and take notice. Quine has written a poisonous and probably legally actionable novel in which many leading lights of the publishing world are portrayed, barely disguised. Cormoran finds Owen's gruesomely slaughtered corpse and the wife is chief suspect; all  his other cases fall by the wayside. Cormoran is certain that she is not guilty. 

There is a panoply of richly realized characters in The Silkworm; the emotionally stunted novelist's wife, the gruff and mannish agent, the egotistical best-selling author, the repressed publishing house CEO, Quine's mentally handicapped daughter, and a host of others. The mystery is amazingly twisty and I admit that I did not have a clue who could be such a cold-blooded and crafty murderer. Cormoran is a character one has to like while simultaneously wishing to give him a good "head smack". His tenacity leads him into self-destructive behavior that places health and well-being into jeopardy. Robin is much more than an apprentice and loyal side-kick. Outside of the case, life goes on with what is hopefully the end of Cormoran's dysfunctional relationship with on and off girlfriend, Charlotte; and Robin has her own issues with her self- involved fiance, Matthew.

Robert Glenister is a masterly narrator. It seems to me that he has a command of both London and regional accents which make all the voices of The Silkworm both distinct and memorable.
Whether listening or reading, I highly recommend The Silkworm to all mystery fans. It is perhaps a bit long in getting to the solution but Rowling's style more than makes up for it.

RATING- 5 Stars

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Treachery and Mystery in French Wine Country

Jean-Pierre Alaux and Noel Balen
Le French Book
February 2012

Treachery in Bordeaux is the first of a 20 book series featuring renowned wine expert Benjamin Cooker. A very popular French TV series is also based on the series. Cooker is an expert vintner and wine critic, much sought after by the industry and well-known by the public at large.When a vintage from the prestigious grand cru Moniales Haut-Brion is tampered with in the barrel, the owner calls Cooker in to investigate whether it was sabotage. Benjamin, along with his new assistant, Virgile Lanssien, turns amateur detective in order to discover the culprit as well as the reason. 

What I don't know about wine production is a vast territory, so I found much of the book very interesting. There are wonderful descriptions of the Bordeaux region, almost cinematic in nature. However, Cooker comes across as too gimmicky a character; always perfectly turned out with the perfect wardrobe, the perfect car, and a whopping ego to match. In contrast, both Virgile and Cooker's wife, Elisabeth, are cardboard. Elisabeth seems to exist solely to keep a perfect home and turn out exquisite meals on demand. The book is also very short; a little longer than novella length. The mystery is tied up in just a few pages with characters that came into the story just to supply a solution. One has the feeling that the book came into existence after the TV script was written. I came to the last page and said, "Wait, What? Is that it"?

I did find the information on the wine industry of interest, keeping me reading, and am willing to read more of the series, in the hope that there is more character development. All in all it was a pleasant and undemanding read so I will give it 3 stars.

Thanks to Le French Book and for an advance digital copy.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Thrilling Debut Gas-Lit Thriller- Read in one sitting.

Lauren Owen
Random House
June 17, 2014

The Quick by Lauren Owen was named one of the top ten fiction books of the season by Publisher's Weekly and to me, it more than fulfilled that promise. I was enthralled by the story and the characters from the start despite an admittedly somewhat slow pace. I was going to try to write a review without revealing the secret but it's out now. There are vampires in this story but not your sexy, sparkly ones. The vampires of London in 1892 are terrifying in every way.

Charlotte and James Norbury grew up isolated in a moldering manor in York. Orphaned at an early age with only an aunt to raise them, the two formed a strong bond. Charlotte as the elder becomes both mother and sister to the shy James but James, as a man, has the opportunity to go off to school while Charlotte is left on the estate to care for the now ailing aunt. James goes to live in London where he hopes to fulfill his literary aspirations. When the aunt dies and James disappears there is nothing for it but that Charlotte find him. When she does his condition shocks and horrifies her but she is determined to rescue him.

The Quick is filled with indelible characters; shy James, stalwart Charlotte, brash but heroic American Arthur Howland, and the sinister "Dr. Knife", who despite being "quick" (still living) is one of the more chilling characters I have ever encountered. I found myself emotionally invested in the characters in a way I am usually not with stories in this genre. I grieved over some of their fates and rejoiced at others. There is some happiness to be found but at a horrific cost. Let me not forget the whopper of a twist at the end.

Thanks to and Random House for an advance digital copy of The Quick which is without doubt, one of the best novels I have read this year.

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Welcome to Midnight, Texas

Charlaine Harris
Ace Books
May 6, 2014

I was very eager to see how Charlaine Harris would follow up on her long-running Sookie Stackhouse series. Like many other readers, I thought the Sookie series went on about four books longer than it should have. Unlike many other readers, I disliked the "True Blood" adaptation of the series intensely. I forced myself to watch about three episodes and decided I just wasn't masochistic enough.

Midnight, Texas could be any one of a thousand little crossroads in America. Blink and you might miss it. But Midnight is populated by some very odd souls indeed. Two of those  souls have made appearances in previous Harris series; Manfred Bernardo from the Harper Connolly Series and Bobo Winthrop from the Lily Bard Mysteries. Manfred, I remembered very well indeed, and Bobo- not at all. Manfred, who is a telephone and internet psychic, has just moved to Midnight and his landlord is Bobo. Bobo owns the local pawn shop, one of the few thriving businesses in Midnight. He has another tenant, Lemuel, who lives in the basement of the pawnshop and only comes out at night. Then there is Fiji who runs a New Age Shop and an unsociable reverend who conducts Sunday services, weddings and pet funerals. These are only a few of of the characters that we come to know more or less well in the course of the story. All is not well in Midnight though. Bobo's live-in girlfriend went missing several months past and there are stirrings of white supremacy and separatist movements in the neighborhood. All in all, the residents of Midnight are not what the Bible Belt looks kindly upon.

Midnight Crossroad develops somewhat slowly as we get to know the residents and watch them interact. Charlaine Harris is a master at building intriguing characters and Midnight Crossing is no disappointment. I was enthralled throughout and the solution to the mystery of the missing girlfriend was a complete surprise. The white supremacists are idiots but dangerous ones, as in real life. There are enough secrets in Midnight to keep this trilogy going and I look forward to the next one. Flashes of dry humor throughout the book are an added attraction. Charlaine Harris has a very accurate grasp of cat psychology :). Highly recommended!

RATING-4.5 stars

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Atmospheric Romp through Victorian London with Barker and Llewellyn


FATAL ENQUIRY (Barker and Llewellyn #6)
Will Thomas
St. Martins Minotaur
May 13, 2014

Some years ago I read the first Barker and Llewellyn mystery, Some Danger Involved, and had every intention of following the series but somehow lost track of it. I guess that is the result of having a TBR pile of monumental proportions! When Fatal Enquiry popped up on netgalley I remembered how much I enjoyed it and jumped right in. 

Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewellyn, are descendants of the the original sleuthing duo, Holmes and Watson. It is the difference between the pairs that make Barker and Llewellyn so interesting. Cyrus Barker is very much a self-made man and world traveler. Raised in China, Barker is very large, scarred and spends hours in physical training and martial arts. He knows everyone in London from the lowest to the highest, is immensely rich, secretive about how he gained his riches, and religious in a very muscular way. Thomas is  young still, about 20 years old at the time of this book, scholarly and clever, with a murky past. The two are Private Enquiry Agents.

In Fatal Enquiry, the villain of Some Danger Involved, Sebastian Nightwine, has returned to England with a plan to invade Tibet and the mythical Shambala and extend the British Empire. Somehow he has gained the protection of both the Foreign Office and Scotland Yard, despite his criminal past. Cyrus Barker is having none of that however. The two immediately cross swords and it appears that Nightwine has the upper hand. Cyrus and Thomas have to go on the run, accused of murder with a price on their heads. What follows is a fast paced adventure through London, one in which we learn much more about the shared history of Barker and Nightwine.

While I didn't remember many of the particulars of Some Danger Involved, I did recall the richness of both characters and atmosphere. Thomas has grown up quite a lot, is much more confident and a worthy assistant to Cyrus Barker who remains larger than life. The tone is dark at times but is as witty as I remember. This time I will be catching up on Barker and Llewellyn but I think Fatal Enquiry can be read as a stand-alone. I highly recommend the Barker and Llewellyn mysteries for historical mystery and adventure fans. Thanks to St. Martins and netgalley for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4 Stars

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Visit to the 16th Century French Court

M. J. Rose
Atria Books
April 8, 2014

The Collector of Dying Breaths is book #6 in M.J. Roses's bestselling Reincarnationist series, of which I have read the last three. The Collector appears to bring to a close this particular story arc. Jac L'Etoile is the heir of a famous French perfume house, along with her brother, Robbie. Jac however has not become a perfumer, but a mythologist with a successful television show. She has suffered "memory lurches" all her life-lurches into other lives and eras. Robbie and her mentor, Malachai Samuels, believe that she is remembering past lives. But Jac refuses to believe in reincarnation.

Jac suffers a great personal loss at the beginning of the book, one that forces her to reassess her attitudes. Her "memory lurches" bring her into the life of Rene le Florentine, perfumer to Catherine de Medici in 16th century France. Rene is not only Catherine's perfumer, but also supplies her with poisons for her enemies. Rene and Catherine believe that by collecting the last breaths of the dying, their souls can be reanimated. Jac and her estranged lover, Griffin Bell, become embroiled with an incredibly rich collector, Melinoe, and her step-brother, Serge. Both Melinoe and Serge will do anything to find the formula to reanimate the "breaths".

Told in alternating voices, those of Jac and Rene, The Collector of Dying Breaths is a fascinating look at the intrigue and politics of the French Court and the religious strife of the age. I found Rene an interesting, if not entirely sympathetic character and Queen Catherine even more so. Jac, however, is a character I never really connected with, and Griffin, even less so. The ending is a satisfactory one with Jac finally seizing control of her own life and breaking the cycle that has governed it. Rose's writing is lush and descriptive and the books are a leap of imagination, one well-grounded in history.

Thanks to netgalley and Atria Books for an advance digital copy.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Delightful New Cozy

Marty Wingate
Random House LLC/Alibi
May 6, 2014

Pru Parke grew up in Dallas, Texas, only child of an English mother and American father. Pru is a professional gardener and landscape designer with a perfectly good career. But when her mother dies Pru decides to follow her dream and move to England. She gives herself one year to get a position at one of the many historical English gardens. So far, she has had no luck but has gotten several jobs in private homes. When Pru stumbles over a dead body at one of those homes she finds herself drawn into the investigation.

We first meet  Pru in the last month of her self-imposed year limit. She is just about out of funds and coming to the end of her lease on her house. She has made friends in England but her old Dallas friends and an old flame are pressuring her to come home. She can even get her former position back but England has become more of a home to her than Dallas could ever be. There are so many things I loved about The Garden Plot.  Pru herself is a mature woman; over fifty and extremely self-reliant. Some might even call her stubborn. Yet she is also vulnerable, feeling that she has always been somewhat of a fish out of water. She wants more than anything to stay in England but things just haven't worked out. Every chapter of The Garden Plot begins with an extremely polite and very English rejection letter from an interview she has had for a position. Those letters get more and more painful as time grows short.

Pru is a delightful and sympathetic character with a small support network of other well developed and slightly eccentric characters. When a dishy Chief Inspector joins that network, things really get interesting. There are also a couple of sleazy bad guys to contend with but Pru is up to the challenge. The Garden Plot is an almost perfect cozy, a great antidote for the snowy day in February when I read it.  I look forward to more of what I hope will be a series. Thanks to netgalley and Random House/Alibri for an advance digital copy.

RATING- 4.5 Heirloom Roses

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Thrills and Chills in the best Gothic Style

Simone St. James
April 1, 2014

Silence for the Dead opens in 1919 England and Kitty Weekes is headed to Portis House, a remote mansion in which men shell-shocked by their wartime experiences are treated, hopefully to recover and be able to resume a normal life. Kitty has been hired as a nurse, which she is not, and under an assumed name. She is on the run from an unknown menace and Portis House seems her best chance of refuge. When Kitty arrives at Portis House she finds that nothing is quite as it seems. There doesn't appear to be much real therapy for the men, the work is grueling and what about the mysterious "Patient Sixteen"; an inmate who is not seen by the other residents and only by staff with "clearance". And how about the things that go bump in the night and the nightmares that plague the men?

Simone St. James breathed new life into the Gothic genre with her first book, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, and An Inquiry into Love and Death, her second. Silence for the Dead is a worthy third novel exploring the period following WWI and I enjoy the historical accuracy of the books. Shell-shocked veterans suffered greatly from their malady and were also burdened by social stigma. Kitty is a brave and resourceful heroine and she is surrounded by a well-rounded cast of characters. Besides the chills, a very satisfactory romance develops.

I did not find Silence for the Dead quite as frightening as her two previous novels and the end seemed somewhat rushed to me. Therefore I am giving the book a 4.5 rather than 5 stars. I would recommend it to anyone who loves historical fiction especially those who enjoy gothic thrills along with the history. This edition includes an excerpt from her next book, The Other Side of Midnight. I am counting the days already!

RATING- 4.5 Stars

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

It's always exciting to find a new author with an existing series. No waiting!

Jane Casey
St. Martin's/Minotaur
August 2011

London is in the grip of panic after the brutal murders of four young women. The killer, dubbed by the press as "The Burning Man", attacks his victims with a stun gun, a claw hammer and boots and then sets the bodies on fire. Maeve Kerrigan is a young Detective Constable attached to the task force charged with apprehending the killer and has worked long hours in the search, putting her health and relationship with her live-in boyfriend in jeopardy. When a fifth victim is found, Maeve notices enough differences to make her think the new victim might be be a copy-cat. When she presents her doubts to her charismatic boss he assigns the new case to her to investigate separately. The victim, Rebecca Haworth, was a young woman who should have had everything going for her, but upon closer examination was in a downward spiral.

The Burning is a very solid police procedural with extremely well drawn characters. The story is told from several viewpoints, primarily those of Maeve and the friend of the latest victim, Louise. While I had pegged the real killer very early, Casey threw in a few red herrings that kept me doubting my own judgement. Maeve herself is an appealing character, very likable, and very driven to find the answers. I am looking forward to catching up with the next four books in the series. The Burning is a great read for fans of psychological crime fiction.

Thanks to netgalley and St. Martins for a digital copy of The Burning.